The government decreased overall protection efforts. The Department of Equal Opportunity (DEO), which coordinates protection efforts, reported government-supported NGOs assisted 1,373 trafficking victims in 2018, of which 597 were new cases, compared to 1,354 trafficking victims assisted in 2017. Of the trafficking victims NGOs assisted, 89 percent were victims of sex trafficking or exploitation, six percent labor trafficking, one percent forced begging, one percent forced criminality, and four percent other forms or unidentified. To reduce the flow of migrants from Libya, Italy continued training operations with the Libyan Coast Guard, and provided additional patrol vessels, as did other EU member states. However, many European and international NGOs criticized this coordinated effort of turning migrant vessels immediately back to Libyan shores, citing severe security and human rights conditions inside Libya and Libyan detention centers, and a heightened risk of trafficking for migrants forced to remain in Libya. To reduce the Mediterranean migrant flow, government policy barred NGO rescue ships carrying migrants from the Libyan search and rescue waters from docking at Italian ports. The government continued accepting a small number of pre-screened potential victims of trafficking, via UNHCR-approved “humanitarian corridors,” some via direct flights from Libya and Niger. The government continued discussions with the EU on equitable burden-sharing for processing of arriving migrants. The government also funded four voluntary repatriation programs to source countries and provided support for similar repatriations by international organizations from Libya.
NGOs coordinated with law enforcement and immigration officials at both the arrival points and the longer-term reception centers. The government observed standard UNHCR procedures to screen for trafficking victims among asylum-seekers, although according to NGOs, authorities did not properly identify many of the victims on arrival and instead classified victims only as asylum-seekers or undocumented immigrants subject to deportation. Often victims, controlled by their traffickers, refused self-identification as a victim of trafficking. GRETA reported the government did not ensure that officials conducted individualized assessments of risks in all cases prior to any forced returns or expulsions, and noted such cases of returns to Tunisia and Nigeria. NGOs continued to stress the need for longer time periods for screening of migrants at arrival ports to more accurately ascertain victim status, but they acknowledged conditions were not conducive to a stay there beyond one or two days. NGOs also reported improvements in coordination with immigration officials and law enforcement on processing new arrivals. UNHCR trained 230 officials charged with reviewing asylum claims, as well as 70 interpreters, on methods of identifying victims of trafficking. IOM also trained reception center staff on victim identification.
NGOs, the EU, and the Catholic Church projected that the government’s September decree tightening the availability of humanitarian protections for certain asylum-seekers could result in increased trafficking risks for irregular migrants already residing in Italy. Although persons already officially recognized as trafficking victims remained in a protected category, NGOs reported that many of these irregular migrants were either victims or potential victims, with most at risk of labor trafficking.
There was sufficient capacity of reception centers to meet demand due to stricter humanitarian protection qualifications and the overall reduction in irregular migrant arrivals. International organizations, however, continued to assert most centers remained under-equipped to fully address the unique needs of trafficking victims. The government often housed victims and potential victims with irregular migrants, and such housing lacked adequate security against traffickers inside and outside the centers seeking to recruit victims or remove those already under their control. With the 80 percent decline in numbers of irregular migrant arrivals compared to 2017, NGOs and international organizations found initial identification of victims improved, and thus the most acute need shifted to assistance to victims already in Italy. NGOs observed an increase in cooperation and information-sharing by law enforcement with NGOs, particularly in Rome, and particularly regarding new arrivals and minors from other European countries, although the level of police-NGO cooperation varied by region.
The government allotted €24 million ($27.52 million) to trafficking victim assistance programs implemented by NGOs in 2018, increased from €22.5 million ($25.8 million) in 2017 and €15.5 million ($17.78 million) in 2016. The government extended the availability of government-funded programs for assistance for victims to 15 months duration. Local governments provided additional funds to victim assistance programs, although the government did not report the amount. The government cooperated with NGOs and international organizations to provide shelter and services to victims. NGOs welcomed increased government funding for adding facilities, including for men, and for unaccompanied minors. However, funding levels remained insufficient to assist the number of trafficking victims present in Italy from past years. NGOs reported inconsistent quality standards of assistance programs across regions. The government did not implement a formal referral mechanism, for adults or for children, as recommended by GRETA and NGOs. NGOs and the DEO recognized inconsistencies in the efficiency and effectiveness of the current referral process between regions and found that quality standards were lower in the south. Availability of interpretation services for lesser-known African dialects, with victims coming from as many as 15 different language groups, remained a significant challenge.
Foreign victims received assistance for up to 12 months and were eligible for temporary residency and a work permit. Upon identification by authorities during initial screening upon arrival, trafficking victims were eligible for shelter in specialized facilities and could extend their temporary residence permit if employed or enrolled in a job training program. The government granted 270 residence permits to victims in 2018 under Article 18, a decline from 418 in 2017 and 340 in 2016. According to NGOs and pro bono lawyers, many victims applied for asylum upon arrival rather than protection as a victim of trafficking, either through pressure from their trafficker or believing that asylum status afforded greater freedoms, more immediate access to employment and services, and long-term residency.
Children represented nearly 11 percent of all victims receiving assistance, many being boys forced to beg or commit robbery. The Ministry of Interior formed a working group focused on support for unaccompanied minors at risk of trafficking under a 2017 law strengthening their protection. Many unaccompanied Nigerian minor victims misrepresented their age to gain placement in an adult reception center, giving greater freedom to leave the center unnoticed with their trafficker. NGOs, however, welcomed increased scrutiny by authorities of these age-claims, and authorities more often sent victims into child protection if unable to confirm adult age-status. NGOs estimated more than 5,000 minors in Italy were victims of sex trafficking in 2018. Foreign child victims automatically received a residence permit until age 18 and accommodations in a general children’s center or a designated center for trafficking victims who were also asylum-seekers. NGOs cited shelters for unaccompanied minors were insufficient in number given the large need. Children received counseling and enrolled in public schools with the support of mentors. However, by the end of 2017, an estimated 32 percent of unaccompanied children had left the centers voluntarily, which greatly increased their vulnerability to trafficking.
The government did not require victims to cooperate with law enforcement to obtain assistance and a residence permit, although NGOs and international organizations reported authorities did not consistently implement this policy and sometimes gave preference to those who cooperated. The government also offered a single payment of €1,500 ($1,720) to victims, although NGOs noted the application procedure was overly complex and the amount insufficient. GRETA also reported the guarantee of compensation for victims was inadequate and cited insufficient criminal and civil legal options for victims to pursue restitution from traffickers. GRETA further recommended the government increase the use of existing legal remedies to provide restitution to victims and more proactively seize assets and pursue forfeiture against perpetrators.
Italian criminal law lacked a provision prohibiting punishment of victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Current law required proof of exploitation in a criminal action against the perpetrator, which left victims and potential victims at risk of prosecution and conviction when a court did not first convict the perpetrators. NGOs also cited continued challenges in adapting to changing dynamics and methods of traffickers and the need for improved coordination on anti-trafficking strategies between national government ministries, international organizations, and ground-level NGOs, as well as increased cooperation by local police and prosecutors. NGOs, prosecutors, and local officials praised the contribution of trained cultural mediators hired by the government or provided by government-funded NGOs, for their skill in communicating with migrants and victims.